Chapel Well, Cambusbarron, Stirlingshire

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – NS 7781 9251

Also Known as:

  1. Bruce’s Well
  2. Canmore ID 46248
  3. Christ’s Well

Getting Here

Site of the Chapel Well

Site of the Chapel Well

Along the Main Street in Cambusbarron, walk down Mill Hill for a hundred yards or so, to The Brae.  Just here, a paved footpath goes to the right.  Walk along here for about 120 yards until you reach a small footbridge crossing the stream.  On the other side of this bridge you’ll notice a notice board and a sign.  You’re here!

Archaeology & History

Today, all that remains of this spring of water that was sacred in the animistic pantheon of our ancestors, is a notice board and an epitaph, reading “Site of the Chapelwell (or Christ’s Well)”; but in times past this simple spring of water was a place of considerable activity.  Not only did the local people of Cambusbarron get their water supply from this (and others close to the Main Street), but it was also a place of ritual and reverence.  We know this from early church accounts—most of which were complaints about the traditions performed by local people, in contravention to the christian cult.

J.S. Fleming's old drawing

J.S. Fleming’s old drawing

The best account of the site is found in J.S. Fleming’s (1898) work, in which we find it also referred to as the ‘Christ’s Well’.  This attribution adds further mystery and controversy regarding another Christ’s Well a few miles away at Blair Drummond, whose position by the academic community is questioned by local historians.  Be that as it may, Mr Fleming’s words on this Chapel Well are worth reading.  He wrote:

“the most famous of all the Stirling Holy Wells, was, early in this century and is still, known by the name of ‘Chapel Well,’ and its water, up till a recent date, was used for domestic purposes by the villagers.  It originally consisted of a square, stone-built, open well, with parapets, but its walls are now built up and roofed, and it has a door, now shut up, however, and the well closed by the sanitary authorities of the district.  The well is situated on the brink of what we assume to be Glenmoray Burn, here crossed by a rustic wooden bridge in a part of the Chapel Croft garden, containing the alleged site of the chapel, from which it is distant a few feet.  The stump of an ancient thorn is shown on the right hand of the sketch.  The overflow of water empties itself into the adjoining burn.  The site of this famous well has been so variously described as to almost challenge its identity, but the authorities examined, all, with one single exception, afternoted, virtually agree in its situation:

“1) Sutherland, about a hundred years ago, writes:  “Not far from St. Thomas’ Well there is another, on the farm of Chapel Croft, called ‘Christ’s Well,’ of great repute, and visited by women, etc.”

“2) Dr. Rogers, later, after referring to the Chapel of Cambusbarron, says ”two of the three wells connected with the establishment still exist near its site by the margin of Glenmoray stream.”

“3) Another writer says: ‘”Christ’s Well,’ now called ‘ Chapel Well,’ is at bottom of a small dell called Glenmoray, immediately adjoining Cambusbarron, and there is a tradition that here the water was got for the religious services at the Battle of Bannockburn, one redeeming quality of the superstition which would consecrate its water.”

“4) A writer, over the initials “S.I.,” in the Stirling Observer of 27th September, 1866, says:  “Within its Chapel King Robert the Bruce partook of the sacrament on the eve of the Sabbath preceding the Battle of Bannockburn, and its sacred font was the resort at Beltane of the superstitious of a former age, as may be seen from extracts from kirk session records.”

“These all agree that ‘Christ’s Well’ was situated not far from St. Thomas’ Well, on Chapel Croft; that it and other two wells existed some few years ago near the site of the Chapel, on the margin of Glenmoray stream, by the name of “Chapel Well”; ” is situated in a small dell called Glenmoray, and is immediately adjoining Cambusbarron; and that it retains, and is presently known by, no other name than the “Chapel Well.”  Further, a small distillery, now removed, situated a few yards from the Chapel on this burn, taking its name from the glen and burn, was called Glenmoray Distillery…”

“However, a writer in the Stirling Observer of 7th September, 1871, in an article on “Touch Glen,” says that not far from the road leading to the three reservoirs on Touch Hills, two of the three Wells connected with the Chapel (which, he states, is 1000 yards distant from Gartur Lodge) still exist, and may be seen near the brink of a little burn which trickles from the miniature glen of Glenmoray, visible on the hillside just below the lowest reservoir. This burn is crossed by a small stone bridge on the main road, and is known as “Johnnie’s Burn.” These Holy Wells, including Chapel Well, would thus, according to this writer, be about a mile, if on “Johnnie’s Burn,” and if near the lower reservoir, on Touch Hill,’ fully a mile and a half from Chapel Croft and the Chapel…

“…The Church dealt severely with the devotees—principally women—who resorted to the virtues of “Christ’s Well,” as is shown by the session records, from which we make a few extracts: —

“July 12, 1610. — The quhilk day compeirit Grissal Glen and Marioun Gillaspie quha for ther superstitione in passing in pilgrimmage to ‘Christe’s Well’ as they confessit the last day ar ordeinit to mak publick repentance the next Sonday in lining claithis.”

” 1 June, 1630. — The quhilk day compeirit Elspet Aiken, spous to Anclro Cuyngham, tinckler; Jonet Harvie, William Huttoune, cutler; Margaret Mitchell, dochter to Alex Mitchell; Jonet Bennet, dochter to James Bennet, cuick; James Ewein, son of John Ewein, wobster, Margt. Wright, James Watsoune, who confessis passing in pilgrimmage to ‘Christe’s Well’ in Mai, and thairfoir they ar ordeaned to mak publik repentance the nixt Sabbat in thair awin habeit, under the paine of disobedience.”

” Lykway I, Mr. Patrik Bell, am ordeaned to desyre the breithren of the Presbyterie to appoint ane actuale minister for to preach upon Sonday nixt for to tak ordour with the said persounes above writen.” (Note — This offence seems a mere ploy of young people observing May morning, as is done at the present day on the first of May, and the responsibility “of asking” an “actual minister’s aid” to take “order” with the accused seems treating the offence too seriously.)

“6 October, 1631. — The quhilk day compeirit Jonet Norbell, in Cambusbarron, for going for water to help her sick son; and Jonet Main, in Cambusbarron, going to ‘Christe’s Well’ for water for help to her bairns; “and for another offence are ordained” to sair the pulpit on Sonday nixt in her ain habit to mak repentance.”

Mr Fleming seemed to think the traditions of Mayday a healthy thing and wrote well of local traditions, speaking of the healing virtues of the dew on May morning, used by people all over the country; also remembering a song that would be sung in honour of “the delightful custom of maying”:

I, been a rambling all this night,
And some time of this day ;
And now returning back again,
I brought you a garland gay.

Why don’t you do as we have done
The very first day of May ?
And from my parents I have come,
And would no longer stay.

Chapel Well on 1865 map

Chapel Well on 1865 map

Modern plaque at the site

Modern plaque at the site

The fact that Mr Fleming cites the Chapel Well to be known locally as the ‘Christ’s Well’ needs to be remembered when you visit a site of the same name 5 miles northwest of here at Blair Drummond.  It was a place of considerable renown and much used by local people for a variety of indigenous rites and customs for many miles around.  The ancient Scottish practices were still very much alive…

References:

  1. Fleming, J.S., Old Nooks of Stirling, Delineated and Described, Munro & Jamieson: Stirling 1898.
  2. MacKinlay, James M., Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs, William Hodge: Glasgow 1893.
  3. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.
  4. Roger, Charles, A Week at Bridge of Allan, Adam & Charles Black: Edinburgh 1853.

© Paul BennettThe Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.109804, -3.966618 Chapel Well

Holy Well, Cambusbarron, Stirlingshire

Holy Well (destroyed?): OS Grid Reference – NS 7787 9252?

Archaeology & History

A small but ancient chapel once existed in Cambusbarron, long ago, located about one hundred yards east of the Chapel or Christ’s Well.  William Drysdale (1904) told that, apart from the Chapel Well and nearby St. Thomas’ Well, “several other wells in the locality were believed to possess healing virtues.”  It was J.S. Fleming (1898) who said that, “attached to Cambusbarron Chapel two other holy but nameless wells are stated to have been in existence in 1866, on the brink of Glenmoray Burn, near the chapel itself.”

A writer for the Stirling Observer in 1871 told that one of these holy wells was in fact to “be seen near the brink of a little burn which trickles from the miniature glen of Glenmoray, visible on the hillside, just below the lowest reservoir” above Touch, more than a mile away (heading up towards St Corbet’s Well).  The other was said to be near Johnnie’s Burn, a mile to the west.  In Fleming’s (1898) opinion however, neither of these sites were feasible, as he walked all along the course of both burns and could find no other wells.  Does anyone know any different?

References:

  1. Drysdale, William, Auld Biggins of Stirling, Eneas Mackay: Stirling 1904.
  2. Fleming, J.S., Old Nooks of Stirling, Delineated and Described, Munro & Jamieson: Stirling 1898.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.109690, -3.965712 Holy Well

Boiling Springs, Cambusbarron, Stirlingshire

Healing Wells (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NS 77 91

Archaeology & History

Old drawing of the lost wells

The old line drawing here is all that remains of a pair of healing wells that once bubbled up within their ancient stone well-houses, close to each other, in the middle of the old woods west of Stirling in the massive quarries at Gillies Hill.  It’s possible that the large pools of water that are now in the overgrown quarries are thanks to these ancient wells; although one of them was close to the old building of Fir Park, whose overgrown remains are within the woods at grid-reference NS 7787 9124.  Very little has been written about these wells, but thankfully the local historian Mr Fleming (1898) captured their demise in his lovely antiquarian work, saying:

“The sketch, opposite (taken in 1850) of the picturesque wells, then situated in a marshy dell and surrounded by a dense pine wood near to the ancient ‘Boiling Springs’, now dried up by the sinking of the lime pits, and immediately off the old bridle road from Stirling to Glasgow by Murrayshall, shows very ancient remains of wells connected with the original water supply of Stirling by lead pipes from ‘Lessfeerie Springs’, situated in the Touch Hills.  This supply was begun in 1774, and thus antiquity and interest are given to the sketch.  These wells, with their fringes of mosses and ferns and bramble bushes, are now, with the pine wood, demolished, and the whole face of the district changed by the operations in a quarry recently opened up in Gillies Hill crag, causing the locality to be now unrecognizable.”

References:

  1. Fleming, J.S., Old Nooks of Stirling, Delineated and Described, Munro & Jamieson: Stirling 1898.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.098887, -3.976128 Boiling Springs

St. Corbet’s Well, Touch, Stirlingshire

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – NS 738 925

Archaeology & History

This little-known holy well on the northeastern edges of the Touch Hills is another part of our ancient heritage that may well have been lost.  All that now remains are the literary remnants telling of this once important site, around which local socio-religious elements occurred from time to time.  When the local historian J.S. Fleming (1898) wrote about the site, it had already disappeared, and was himself fortunate to recover information relating to its former existence. He told:

“My attention has been drawn to an article which appeared in the Stirling Journal of 31st October, 1834, describing what is claimed to be a Holy Well dedicated to Saint Corbet, or probably Saint Cuthbert.  The well was situated in Touch Glen, not far from Gilmour’s Lynn, and was, even at that time, reduced to a spring one foot deep and three or four feet in circumference, surrounded by boggy ground.  The writer states that there were people then alive who had resorted to this Well in their younger days.  Its virtues were restricted to one hour in the year, and that the hour of sunrise on the first Sabbath of May; the supposition being that by drinking of its waters at the Well by the adventurous pilgrims to such a wild and lonely spot at early sunrise, the devotee was assured of the preservation of his life during that year.  We have never come across this Saint’s name, but Saint Cuthbert had an altar in the Rude Kirk (High Church of Stirling) and, as for the Well, from its diminishing condition in 1834, its site no doubt has long been obliterated.”

It is possible that some remnant of the waters here can still be found, or are known about, by dedicated local practitioners—but without their aid, this sacred site may be forever lost…

Folklore

In Thomas Frost’s (1899) essay on the holy wells of Scotland, he echoed what Mr Fleming had told, saying:

“Of St. Corbet’s Well, on the top of the Touch Hills…it was formerly believed that whoever drank its water before sunrise on the first Sunday in May was sure of another year of life, and crowds of persons resorted to the spot at that time, in the hope of thereby prolonging their lives.”

This restorative folklore element, implicit in the nature of water itself, was obviously related to the cycles of renewal in the social activity of our peasant ancestors, as found in every culture all over the world. (Eliade 1959; 1989)

One account relating to the disappearance of St. Corbet’s Well told that it fell back to Earth as the spirit of the site was insulted by profane practices.  Janet & Colin Bord (1985) told that:

“This theme, of real or imagined insult to the well causing it to lose its power, move its location, or cease flowing altogether, is widespread.  St. Corbet’s Well on the Touch Hills (Stirling) was said to preserve for a year anyone who drank from it on the first Sunday in May, before sunrise, and it was visited by great crowds at the height of its popularity.  But the drinking of spirits became more popular than the drinking of well water, so St. Corbet withdrew the valuable qualities of the water, then eventually the water itself stopped flowing.”

References:

  1. Andrews, William (ed.), Bygone Church Life in Scotland, W. Andrews: London 1899.
  2. Bord, Janet & Colin, Sacred Waters, Granada: London 1985.
  3. Eliade, Mircea, The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion, Harcourt, Brace & World: New York 1959.
  4. Eliade, Mircea, The Myth of the Eternal Return, Arkana: London 1989.
  5. Fleming, J.S., Old Nooks of Stirling, Delineated and Described, Munro & Jamieson: Stirling 1898.
  6. Frost, Thomas, “Saints and Holy Wells,” in Bygone Church Life in Scotland (W. Andrews: Hull 1899).
  7. Morris, Ruth & Frank, Scottish Healing Wells, Alethea: Sandy 1982.
  8. “W.H.”, “St Corbet’s Well,” in The Stirling Antiquary, volume 3, 1904.

AcknowledgementsWith thanks to Ray Spencer for pointing out the Sacred Waters reference. Cheers Ray!

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.108934, -4.030284 St Corbet\'s Well

Sauchie, St. Ninians, Stirling, Stirlingshire

Cairn (destroyed): OS Grid Reference – NS 77 88

Archaeology & History

An impressive prehistoric cairn of some considerable size was in evidence on the lands of Old Sauchie, near Sauchie farmhouse, until the Industrial Age brought an end to its presence. First mentioned in the New Statistical Account (‘Stirlingshire’, volume 7), the Royal Commission lads reported,

“Nothing now remains of the cairn that once existed ‘on the lands of Sauchie’, about 3 miles SSW of Stirling. It was examined in the early 19th century and is said to have measured more than 20ft in height and 90ft in diameter, to have been made of stones, and to have contained two cists, one somewhat larger than the other. It is possible that Wilson (1863) is referring to this cairn when he mentions a quantity of ‘silver coins recently found in a cist exposed on the demolition of a cairn on the lands of Sauchie.’ The coins were very thin, and were described as having been ‘struck through from the back,’ with ‘figures’ on one side only. Some of them had loops for suspension, and there can be little doubt that they were silver bracteates. All have been dispersed and lost.”

If anyone has further information about this obviously important and seemingly lost site, please let us know!

References:

  1. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Stirlingshire – volume 1, HMSO: Edinburgh 1963.
  2. Wilson, Daniel, The Archaeology and Prehistoric Annals of Scotland – volume 2, Sutherland & Knox: Edinburgh 1863.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

 

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  56.073307, -3.969704 Sauchie cairn

West Lodge, Touch, Cambusbarron, Stirling

Cairn:  OS Grid Reference – NS 7501 9315

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 46240

Getting Here

The mound of the cairn
The mound of the cairn

Go west outta Stirling along the Cambusbarron road and along the Main Street until it meets up with Touch Road.  Go along here for a couple of miles, past Touch House and Seton Lodge until you reach the small West Lodge cottage where the road bends.  From here go left up the footpath onto the fields immediately south.  About 200 yards on, where the field rises to the crest of the hill, you’ll note the small mound right next to the track.  If you start walking back down the slope again, you’ve walked past it!

Archaeology & History

Possible peristalith ruins

There’s not too much to see here as the site is very much overgrown, but it’s in a lovely spot looking across to the Ochil Hills eastwards.  And if  records are anything to go by, it’s a pretty isolated prehistoric site with no companions close by — though a prehistoric food vessel was located a short distance to the east on the Touch House Estate grounds many years ago.  It’s quite a large, roughly circular mound.  Several long stones are visible, laid down, on top of its western side, which archaeologists believe may represent the remains of an encircling stone ring that was built to define the cairn.  As far as I’m aware the site remains unexcavated and its condition is still much as it was when the Scottish Royal Commission fellas visited the place in 1956.  Following their brief excursion, they later (1963) wrote the following notes:

“It is circular on plan, measures 65ft in diameter at the base and stands to a height of 2ft 6in.  Now covered with fine pasture, it appears to have been formerly under cultivation, and the flat top measures 50ft in diameter.  The mound may represent a denuded cairn and three earthfast boulders which protrude through the turf near the W edge may be the remains of a peristalith.  The largest stone has a bench-mark carved on it (125.9).”

A later brief report by the Royal Commission (1979) commented that the site was a cairn measuring 20m across and 0.7m high.

References:

  1. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments Scotland, Stirling – volume 1, HMSO: Edinburgh 1963.
  2. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland, Archaeological Sites and Monuments of Stirling District, Central Region, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland 1979.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian 

 

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  56.114711, -4.011518 West Lodge cairn

Wallstale, Cambusbarron, Stirling

Dun:  OS Grid Reference – NS 7744 9085

Also Known as:

  1. Canmore ID 46232

Getting Here

To be found on the wooded hill about 160 yards north of Wallstale Farm, on the Polmaise Road on the western side of the M9, a mile or so south of Cambusbarron, below the hugely impressive Murrayshall Quarries.  Walk up the steep slope into the woodland and when you reach the level you’ll find the stonework remains.  It’s on the edge of the slope in the trees.

Archaeology & History

This old fortified walled structure is best seen in the winter months when all the vegetation has fallen back to Earth.  If you come here in the summer, the woods are nice but the monument can’t be seen as clearly.  Found at the top of the slope above the roadside, it was described in the Stirlingshire Royal Commission (1963) account as follows:

Ground-plan of Wallstale Dun (after RCAHMS 1963)
Wallstale Dun, up there somewhere!

“It is almost circular in plan…measuring about 45ft in diameter within a ruined stone wall some 11ft in thickness.  Except on the ESE side, where the entrance was probably situated, the wall can be traced continuously by patches of rubble core, and round the east half outer facing-stones are visible up to a maximum height of four courses.  In contrast, the inner face is only exposed for a short distance on the ENE.  The interior of the dun is featureless.  On the NW side the dun is protected by a rock-cut ditch of substantial proportions which traverses the spur; it measures 26ft in width at the top and the scarp is 5ft 6in in depth.”

References:

  1. Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments Scotland, Stirling – volume 1, HMSO: Edinburgh 1963.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.094870, -3.971199 Wallstale dun

Douglas Terrace, Cambusbarron, Stirlingshire

Cairn (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NS 782 929

Archaeology & History

At the bottom of the ridge from the (supposedly) singular King’s Park cup-and-ring stone,” in a sand-pit adjoining Douglas Terrace,” we could once find the remains of a now lost prehistoric tomb.  First described in the Stirling Natural History Society’s Transactions in 1907, the Scottish Royal Commission lads (1963) told us that, “an urn from this cist was taken to the Smith Institue, Stirling, in a broken condition.” Anymore information about this site, or images of the fragmented urn, would be hugely appreciated.

It does seem very probable that the King’s Park cup-and-ring stone at the top of the ridge from here did relate to local neolithic or Bronze Age burial sites, as I suspected.  It’s highly likely that other carvings were (are?) hidden beneath, or round the edges of this Douglas Terrace and Kings Park region, as I suggested a few months ago.  It’s imperative that archaeologists in the district pay attention to this area before giving the go-ahead of any further landscape destruction.

References:

  1. Royal Commission on Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Stirlingshire – volume 1, HMSO: Edinburgh 1963.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.113718, -3.959600 Douglas Terrace cairn

Birkhill House, Cambusbarron, Stirlingshire

Cairns (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NS 780 926

Archaeology & History

In times past, there were at least two prehistoric tombs in land either side of old Birkhill House, now covered by the M9 motorway.  The Scottish Royal Commission lads described the first as being “in the garden of Birkhill House,” continuing:

“This cist contained bones and an urn which measured 5in in height and 6in in diameter, and was ornamented with zigzag lines.”

They think, from its description, that “it may have been a food vessel.”  There were also the remains of another tomb to be found in “rising ground to the west side of” Birkhill House.  Both of these finds were first described in the local Transactions of the Stirling Natural History and Antiquarian Society in 1880.  It seems that little else is known about them. (Thanx again to Paddybhoy for prodding my attention here.)

References:

  1. Royal Commission on Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Stirlingshire – volume 1, HMSO: Edinburgh 1963.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.110973, -3.962363 Birkhill House

Coneypark Nursery, Cambusbarron, Stirlingshire

Cairns (destroyed):  OS Grid Reference – NS 783 926

Archaeology & History

At least two old tombs that could once be seen here are long-gone by all accounts.  They could be found 200 yards south of the remaining King’s Park cup-and-ring stone.  The first was described by the Royal Commission lads (1963) as a well-defined cist, “situated within a gravel mound and (it) contained a skeleton.”  Another tomb site was described a few years later:

“A second short cist was found just within the cairn material 3m SE x E from cist no.1.  It consisted of a capstone set on built-up side walls, the bottom courses being five slabs on edge.  The internal measurements were 64cm long and 48cm wide and 60cm deep.  This second cist was orientied NE-SW with its floor made of small pebbles on which lay a late incised beaker and a small piece of human skull.”

References:

  1. Royal Commission on Ancient & Historical Monuments, Scotland, Stirlingshire – volume 1, HMSO: Edinburgh 1963.
  2. Thompson, J.K., “Coneypark: Bronze Age Cairn,” in Discovery & Excavation in Scotland, 1972.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.111039, -3.957738 Coneypark Nursery